How the NFL Started: The Early Years

How the NFL Started: The Early Years tells the story of how the National Football League came to be. The NFL has its roots in the late 1800s, when a group of college football players formed a league.


The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). The NFL is one of the four major professional sports leagues in North America, and the highest professional level of American football in the world. The NFL was formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association (APFA) before renaming itself the National Football League for the 1922 season.

The NFL established itself as the premier professional football league with an agreement to merge with its then-rival, the American Football League (AFL), in 1966. The first Super Bowl was played in 1967 between the champions of each league, before the end of that same year. Today, the NFL has the highest average attendance (67,591) of any professional sports league in the world and is also broadcast on television in over 180 countries.

The Birth of Professional Football

The birth of professional football can be traced back to 1892, when Pittsburgh Steelers founder William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. This marked the first recorded instance of a professional football player being paid to play in a game.

As word of Heffelfinger’s deal spread, more and more players began to be paid for their services. By 1896, there were several professional teams in existence, including the Allegheny Athletic Association, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club, the Latrobe Athletic Association, and the Canton Bulldogs. These teams began to schedule more games against each other and attracted larger crowds.

In 1920, the American Professional Football Association was formed. This league would eventually evolve into what we now know as the National Football League. The NFL’s first season featured 14 teams and was won by the Chicago Tigers.

The First Professional Football League

In 1892, William “Pudge” Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association, becoming the first professional football player. This set the stage for the first professional football league, which was formed in 1898. The league was called the National Football League (NFL), and it had 14 teams. The teams were located in large cities on the East Coast, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh.

The NFL lasted for only two years before it ceased operation due to lack of interest. In 1920, a new professional football league was formed called the American Professional Football Association (APFA). The APFA was more successful than the NFL and lasted for four years before changing its name to the National Football League in 1922. The NFL has been in operation ever since.

The American Football League

The American Football League (AFL) was a major professional American football league that operated for ten seasons from 1960 until 1970, when it merged with the older National Football League (NFL), and became the American Football Conference. The upstart AFL began to challenge the established NFL in popularity, gained prominence after signing several star players away from the NFL, including New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath in 1965. The AFL launched its own championship game, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, which would later become known as Super Bowl I, and evolved into a massively successful enterprise with lucrative television contracts.

The Merger of the NFL and AFL

One of the most important events in NFL history occurred in 1966 when the NFL and American Football League (AFL) completed a merger that resulted in the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most watched television show in the United States each year.

The AFL was founded in 1960, and its first season was in 1960. The league consisted of eight teams: the Denver Broncos, Houston Oilers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. The AFL was able to sign some of the best college football players because it offered them more money than they could get from NFL teams.

In 1965, the two leagues announced that they would merge into one league beginning in 1970. This led to a fierce competition between the AFL and NFL for the best players in college football. As a result of this competition, salaries for players increased dramatically.

In 1966, the NFL and AFL completed their merger, and the first Super Bowl was played in 1967. Since then, the Super Bowl has been played every year except for one (in 1986) when it was postponed due to a labor dispute between players and owners.


The National Football League has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the early 1900s. From its humble beginnings as a minor league with just a handful of teams, to its current status as one of the most popular professional sports leagues in the world, the NFL has truly come of age. Thanks to its rich history and tradition, as well as its exciting brand of football, the NFL is sure to remain America’s favorite sport for many years to come.

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